(1) Villanova has had some struggles with star guards, does Columbia have a backcourt star that the Wildcats should look out for?
Columbia's star player is Brian Barbour. The senior guard is averaging 13.3 points per game this season, but that's held down by the fact that he barely played in the Lions' game against Division III Haverford. He's scored 19 points in both of his Division I games (at Furman and Marist). The Lions also have a freshman, Grant Mullins, who has been impressive early in the season and can do some different things at the point guard position. It's Barbour though that every team's defense is concentrating on.
(2) The Lions were picked to finish third in the Ivy during the preseason, how high are expectations in Morningside Heights?
Expectations are higher this season that they've been in a long time, whether that's fair or not. Columbia brings back almost all of the major pieces from last season and while the Lions were 4-10 in Ivy League play, a lot of that was due to some bad luck. Barbour and center Mark Cisco give the team veteran leadership and there is a lot of size. Columbia basically starts two centers in Cisco and sophomore Corey Osetkowski. It's a little bit of a down year in the Ivy League and so Columbia is expected to make the leap into the upper half of the league, which hasn't happened since 2008-09 when they finished fourth.
(3) Offensively, what are the Lions' strengths? How will they try to break down Villanova's defense?
Columbia's strengths offensively are ball movement and the pick-and-pop game between Barbour and Cisco. For a big man Cisco is very comfortable playing outside of the paint (maybe too comfortable). He takes a lot of jump shots and believes they're going in. If he's clicking it opens up a lot of space for the rest of the team to work. The Lions play a pretty conservative offensive style in that they won't turn it over and don't crash the offense glass. I'd expect Columbia to try and get Steve Frankoski or Barbour some good looks from three to open things up early and then rely on Cisco's jump-shooting to stretch the Villanova defense.
(4) Defensively, is Columbia particularly susceptible to any type of play?
Columbia has been a man-to-man defensive team for years, but because they're playing three bigger bodies in the 3, 4 and 5 spots on the court they're mixing in a bunch of 2-3 zone now. Marist exploited it a bit by knocking down 8-20 from three and then using that to get driving lanes to slash into the paint. It seems like Villanova has been getting to the free throw line a lot early in the season, that might be difficult against Columbia. The Lions have been especially good the past two games at keeping opponents off the line.
(5) After a heartbreaking loss to Marist, the Lions have to travel to Philadelphia for this game, have they shown the resilience needed to bounce back from a disappointing loss either this season or last?
This is Columbia's first loss of the season and the resiliency is actually a big question mark. Last season Columbia went through two bad stretches (0-4 to start the season, six consecutive losses in Ivy play) that basically defined the season. They'll need to find a way to work through it. Columbia should be ready for this game and it'll probably be a bit closer than most people expect.